Harvesting lavender is a feast for the senses. Just brushing up against the plant releases the soothing fragrance that lavender is known for best. Its signature scent makes Lavender,Lavandula, one of the most versatile and beloved plants in the garden. A number of species of this highly aromatic flower are available but varieties of Lavandula Angustifolia or English Lavender hold the top spot with gardeners.
No matter what variety you grow, all lavenders are harvested the same way. Flowers, buds and leaves are all rich with fragrant essential oils but buds and flowers are used most often. When you harvest lavender, you are also pruning it to encourage growth. With good growing conditions and judicious pruning you can extend the life of this fairly short-lived perennial to create a showpiece flowering subshrub.
When to Harvest Lavender
Lavender flowers and buds are harvested throughout the growing season from late spring until early fall. As soon as the plant sends up flower spikes, the lavender harvest begins. Often just a few flowers are produced early in the season followed by a mid-season flush and sometimes a second flush in late summer. A number of environmental conditions affect when your variety of lavender will bud out and bloom. Watch for early blooms. When harvested the right way, you can encourage your plant to produce more flowers.
The best time of day to harvest is in the morning after dew has dried but before the heat of the day sets in. This is when the essential oil is most concentrated in the buds which are also the most fragrant and best for drying when picked just as they begin to open.
The best time of year to harvest lavender leaves is late fall around the time of first frost or very early spring. A hard pruning taking up to two-thirds of the leafy, woody growth in late fall encourages root development which helps young plants establish and yields a good bounty of fragrant leaves. In early spring, a harvest of new leafy growth on mature plants can accelerate flower production. The size of your plant will determine the yield but don't expect a big leaf harvest in early spring.
Before Getting Started
Keep in mind that harvesting lavender equates to pruning the plant and proper pruning is essential if you hope to develop a flowering subshrub. Many varieties of lavender are tender perennials with a projected life span of about five years. Hardier varieties like the English 'Munstead' and French 'Grosso' can thrive for 15 to 20 years, so choose this type if you're looking for a more permanent accent for your landscape. Avoid cutting woody, leafy stems during the growing season and restrict your harvest to budding or flowering stalks.
Equipment / Tools
- Garden snips
- Hand pruners
- Gloves (optional)
- Harvest basket or trug
Choose a Budding Stem
Look for budding stems that shoot up above the leafy growth of your plant. Different varieties will send flower spikes up to different heights so you may need to look for spikes on some types of compact lavender.
If you prefer open flowers over buds, simply wait to harvest until the flowers have opened fully,
Follow the Stem Down
Follow the stem down until you locate two new opposite leaves, buds or stems. The new growth is found on the flowering stem a few inches below the actual bloom.
Snip the Stem
Just above this juncture is where you want to snip. Make a precise cut about 1/8 to 1/4 inch just above the new growth. Place the cut stem in your basket. The plant will send up two new flowering stems from this pruning.
Follow the 1/3 Rule During Growing Season
You can harvest all the budding spikes or flowers on your plant during the growing season but avoid cutting into woody growth. You don't want to take more than 1/3 of the plant at this time and limiting your harvest to flowers and buds should keep you within recommended limits.
Hard Prune for Leaf Harvest
As first frost approaches, use pruners to snip off woody, leafy stems and branching. You can safely take up to 2/3 of the plant at this time. Harvesting too early can stimulate more growth which you don't want since the lavender is moving into winter dormancy.
Make a sharp, decisive cut on selected branches, 1/4 inch above a leaf, keeping in mind the shape you want to create for your plant.
Wait to Hard Prune in the Spring
Hard pruning in the spring can stimulate new growth, however the leaves, having overwintered, will be of lesser quality.
Wait until you see new leaves growing at the base of the plant before you remove anything other than dead or damaged branches. Pruning too early in the spring can delay and stunt growth.